‘Stone’s owners got rich.’ Connecticut attorney general sues school over sudden shutdown

Tong is seeking $5,000 per violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, plus restitution for students.

John Craven

Jul 13, 2023, 3:03 PM

Updated 279 days ago

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Connecticut Attorney General William Tong sued Stone Academy and one of its owners for millions of dollars on Thursday. The private nursing school’s abrupt closure has left hundreds of students in limbo and led to months of finger pointing between the school and state regulators.
“While students suffered from plummeting exam pass rates, disappearing clinical opportunities and a dearth of qualified faculty, Stone’s owners got rich,” Tong told reporters.
Tong is seeking $5,000 per violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, plus restitution for students.
PROMISES MADE
Stone Academy promised a lucrative career in nursing – for $30,000 in tuition. But when the school suddenly shut down in February, students were left with no jobs, no transcripts – and a pile of debt.
Maclioni Lopez, of Norwalk, was one of them.
“We spent money. We spent time,” he told News 12 Connecticut in April. “We sacrificed time with our families – sacrificed a lot.”
Stone operated three campuses in Waterbury, West Haven and East Hartford.
Tong's lawsuit claims Stone Academy cheated students with unqualified professors, overcrowded classes and not enough clinical hours. It also points the finger at owner Joe Bierbaum, alleging that he funneled money and faculty from Stone Academy to his other school, Paier College of Art, and even to his private home improvement company.
The attorney general described Stone like a pyramid scheme.
“Ever more students, ever more money, ever more tuition,” he said.
Tong would not speculate whether Stone Academy’s owners could also face criminal charges, but said his office is in regular contact with prosecutors.
“BASELESS LAWSUIT”
Stone Academy called the lawsuit “baseless” and again blamed state regulators.
“Stone sought to wind down in an orderly manner, proposing multiple teach out plans to avoid any disruption to its student body, but OHE [Office of Higher Education] ordered the closure to occur within two weeks without any teach plan in place,” attorney Perry Rowthorn, a former deputy attorney general, said in a statement. “Those agencies have completely bungled their regulatory responsibilities, approving programs and practices at issue in the lawsuit, misreading regulations and repeatedly in the last months altering their positions on applicable regulatory requirements.”
Tong dismissed Stone’s allegations, saying the school closed after state agencies started asking tough questions.
“Stone has peddled this narrative that the state shut them down. That's utter nonsense. Another lie,” he said. “They shut down when they felt the heat.”
“WE’RE IN THE DARK”
Former students also have sharp words for regulators.
“We're in the dark, and we need some type of light to see exactly where we're going,” former student Larry Smith, of Milford, said in April.
The state plans to refund students’ out-of-pocket expenses from OHE’s Student Protection Fund, and the U.S. Department of Education is working on federal student loan relief. But many students are still waiting for their transcripts. They’re also waiting for a state audit, due last month, to determine if their hours are even valid.
Tong is asking for a receiver to take over Stone Academy’s operations, which could speed up the process for students. He’s also asking a judge to freeze the defendants’ assets, to “prevent the defendants from offloading or shifting resources to evade accountability.”
Students already filed their own class-action lawsuit against Stone Academy. The school has not filed a response yet.
If you are a former Stone Academy student, click here:


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